Former Weber State football player Devin Pugh has filed a class action lawsuit in Indianapolis federal court challenging the NCAA transfer rule restrictions and the limit on the number of scholarships that can be offered by NCAA member institutions.

The lawsuit claims that current NCAA mandates, requiring football players to sit out a year before resuming their careers after transferring to another member school, capping the number of scholarships that can be offered at 85, and prohibiting multi-year scholarships, are anti-competitive and violate federal anti-trust laws.

Pugh claims he rejected several scholarships opportunities following his senior high school in Oklahoma in favor of a scholarship proposal from Weber State University Head Coach Ron McBride. He claims McBride made specific verbal assurances to him that his scholarship would be renewed each year as long as he remained academically eligible for NCAA competition. Pugh asserts that Coach McBride assured him these commitments would be honored by any future coaching staffs even if McBride leaves the school.

However, when Jody Sears replaced McBride as head coach following his retirement, Pugh asserts his scholarship was not renewed. Despite receiving scholarship offers from other schools, including Colorado State and the University of Colorado, the offers were contingent upon Pugh retaining two years of eligibility at the time of transfer.

Unfortunately, since Pugh had agreed to “red shirt” (not compete against outside competition) during his freshman year at Weber State and the NCAA transfer rules require a mandatory one-year delay in athletic eligibility following transfer, Pugh was unable to accept any scholarship offers because he had only one year of athletic eligibility remaining. The NCAA rejected Pugh’s appeal for a hardship waiver to continue his career immediately upon transferring, which would preserve two additional years of athletic eligibility. Ultimately, the non-renewal of Pugh’s Weber State scholarship led to Pugh’s transfer to Division II Colorado State-Pueblo. As a result, Pugh alleged, the monetary value of his scholarship decreased from when he attended Weber State and nearly doubling his loan payments.

The lawsuit claims the transfer rules are anti-competitive and “restrain players’ abilities to make the best choice for themselves, including ones based on financial considerations, academic considerations, athletic considerations and personal circumstances.”

The action asserts that by requiring transferring players to sit out a year, the NCAA and its member schools have “contracted, combined and conspired to fix, depress or stabilize the amount, terms and conditions” of scholarship aid and “the NCAA cannot justify its conduct as necessary to preserve education or amateurism.”

Pugh’s attorney, Steve Berman, summarized the action as follows, “We believe that the NCAA and many other sports-governing bodies are in a period of change, but if the NCAA refuses to make these changes willingly, we intend to fight tenaciously for the rights of student-athletes against what we see as patently unlawful antitrust behavior.”

Pugh’s action seeks a formal determination that the NCAA’s practices relating to scholarships and transfer rules are unlawful, damages, including mandatory trebling of actual damages as well as punitive damages, and reasonable attorney’s fees.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.